No One Knows What They’re Doing

Navigating a new career in a world gone mad

Whistle in the dark
Illustration: Piya Willwerth

There is a robust film essay community on YouTube in which FilmJoy, one of the best, has a series called “Movies With Mikey”. During their videos, which often describe the process or the genesis of the film at hand, there’s a phrase that comes up fairly often — often enough that I’ve developed a pet theory that it applies to everything, not just film. It’s called “No one knows what they’re doing.”

No One Knows What They’re Doing

What does this mean? It means that whatever the path, taken deliberately or not, no one can completely predict the outcome. It was most liberally applied to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, in The Story of Star Trek — a man who started out as a fighter pilot in World War II, became a Pan Am commercial pilot who saved a bunch of people in a plane crash, and then an LA cop.

Then, for whatever reason, he decided he wanted to become a TV writer. And the rest is, as they say, somewhat messy and incredibly well-documented history.

But wait, you say. We’re living in unprecedented times. Is now really the time to take risks?

Assuming that you are relatively stable (ie, you’re not homeless or struggling with a very difficult life-impacting problem), now is the perfect time to take a risk. In Seth Godin’s book, This Is Marketing, he wrote the following:

When life interferes, new patterns are established. This is why it’s so profitable to market to new dads, engaged women, and people who have recently moved. They don’t have a pattern to match, so it’s all an interrupt.

Seth Godin, This Is Marketing

What do you think a global pandemic caused? A global pattern interrupt. As a result of having their previous routines disrupted, everywhere, people are now looking to establish a new routine.

I think it was Neal Brennan (I can’t find the exact clip) who said that when you’re young, you have no standards when you’re dating. When you’re 22, you’re like, Maybe my type is a musician with a DUI.* You don’t already have a “pattern” to interrupt, so you have to set about establishing them. That’s sort of like what’s going on now. Who were you before? Who do you want to be now?

And don’t forget Littlefinger

Chaos is a ladder
Chaos is a ladder

And herein lies my point. With the world in disarray, there is no “normal.” There are so many things that used to be normal that are now changed forever. Does your favorite restaurant still exist? How about your favorite music venue?

I am not saying this is good, necessarily. (Although I will admit to being a little bit of an insurrectionist — not of the Trump variety!) I am saying that it’s not all bad.

Isn’t it time to break free? Your pattern has been interrupted. It’s time to establish a new pattern. And that requires a whole lot of not knowing what you’re doing to achieve. This is true when you start new things, whether there is a global pandemic or not. Either way, you are interrupting your pattern and introducing a little bit of chaos into your life.

Gene Roddenberry literally went to war. I wonder if, while experiencing that chaos and constant instability (I would characterize war as a kind of chaos), he started believing that there was no stability. Is that why he went from Pan Am pilot to police officer to writer? Was becoming a writer his way of finding stability? Being a writer may not be reliable job, but you definitely have a much lower chance of being shot. Perhaps he was just tired of watching people bleed.

The time has come to examine your life and apply what you have learned during this upheaval. Alternately, it’s time to take a chance and start learning. Start your second career! Now, more than ever, people are ready for new things.


*No shade if you’re a musician with a DUI. Chances are if you’re here, you’re trying to do something about it

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure here.

Related